When building manufacturing business marketing plans is there a danger of concentrating too much on digital at the expense of offline marketing? Most published marketing advice seems to focus on Brand digital marketing and inbound marketing. There is very little comment on the contribution (or not) of outbound marketing.
Small to medium sized manufacturing businesses are different. Their target customer base is often relatively small, key customer retention is generally all important and the sales cycle could be months, even years. Marketing techniques that work for larger B2B businesses and B2C are often simply not valid.
I am not suggesting digital marketing and inbound do not have a place because they certainly do but I happen to believe offline also has an important role. Manufacturing businesses need to take a step back, resist jumping on the latest bandwagon and assess what marketing process is best. The starting point for that process has to be a strategic review.
Strategic Review And Marketing Planning
The exercise does not need to be complex; all that is required is a re-evaluation of what the business sells and to who. What needs do the business products or services satisfy? Who needs that product or service and who else satisfies that need.
It is vitally important to identify what is to be pitched and to who before trying to evaluate the best way to reach them. Too much marketing spend is routinely wasted on the latest trend or what appears to be a good deal without evaluating if it will actually reach and engage the target customer base.
Online Marketing Tactics
With the pitch and the target customers in place only then is it possible to decide the best way to reach them. Social media works well for some businesses but not (in general) for B2B manufacturing businesses where the target customers are often not active on social media channels (LinkedIn excepted).
Your website may be great for existing customers who know it is there and use it as a resource but what about prospects? Can they find your website when they type relevant search phrases into a search engine? Of course, paying for SEO (or PPC) may solve that problem but both tend to be relatively expensive
Blogging and all the other elements of content marketing are great but how do you ensure all that information is delivered to a point it has the best chance of being read and engaged with. There is not a lot of point in talking if nobody is listening.
What About Offline Marketing?
First, let’s exclude tactics that just create annoyance like telemarketing. In some markets, advertising and press activity can be effective. Once again the key is planning and execution. Get it wrong and it can be an expensive mistake. What is the best mix between brand and specific product focus? Do you have a story to tell?
Well-chosen exhibitions, seminars and workshops can be effective. Target customers are likely to be there or can be invited. It is possible to interact with them and deliver the information they need. They can ask questions directly and objections may be addressed.
Again, success depends on planning and execution. Exhibitions are generally expensive so it is essential to work out potential returns in advance and track the actual ROI.
There are those who try to classify Email marketing as inbound. Call me a cynic but this is probably because it makes the inbound statistics more attractive. What is true is Email marketing is highly effective if it is content rather than sales message based.
Assuming a high quality (owned) list and an appropriate CRM system are in place, Email allows a manufacturing business to reach out to their customer and prospect base. The same is true of direct mail although it is more expensive than email. Again, it depends on the quality of the list, planning and execution.
So are manufacturing businesses over reliant on digital. In general, I suggest yes. Why? Well there are a couple of main reasons
- Numbers – we are doing a great job – are we not?
- Shiney object syndrome.
The offline activities mentioned above are, in general, very difficult to measure. How do you (accurately) link advertising to additional sales? Digital, in contrast, is relatively easy to measure. ‘X’ organic website visits, ‘Y’ Adwords click throughs, ‘Z’ email opens. Organic website visits increased 13% this quarter! In some cases, those numbers can be enough to satisfy higher management.
The irony is this. Is it easy to link what is measured (the numbers) directly to sales? No, it is not. It may be easier than making a link to offline marketing activities but it is not a simple task.
I suggest offline activities can be effective but they have fallen out of fashion mainly as a result of the measurement (or lack of it) issue. Perhaps what is really needed is an appropriate mix of inbound and outbound marketing techniques. A process that can be shown to ultimately deliver the only measurement that matters – more sales.